How brands can avoid #festivalfail this Summer: #youthmarketing

I recently wrote an article for AdNews here on what brands need to think about when activating at music festivals this Summer. Had a little help from my good buddy, Benny Barnett who is an absolute expert on all things festivals. Thanks Benny…

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Festival season is almost upon us, and everyone wants a piece of the action. With a stacked calendar and a continued blurring-of-the-line when it comes to offerings and audiences (IDM vs EDM? Phoenix playing Future Music? Who the hell knows what’s going on anymore) it’s harder than ever for brands to stand out and drive engagement. Conservatively, 80% of brands activating at festivals are wasting their money and creating marketing pollution. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the music festival circuit is the highlight of the Gen Y social calendar and marketers see it as a massive opportunity to get their products and brands in front of this illusive group, en masse. However, approach with caution, as festivalgoers are the most cynical consumers in Australia when brands get it wrong. One negative Tweet, Facebook post or Insta photo can spread like wildfire. .  The kids are there to tune in, turn on, drop out and pick up…and will savage any brand that makes a ham-fisted attempt to horn in on their action in the name of ewmarketing.

So how do you avoid your brand making it on the #festivalfail Instagram feed this summer? How do you appeal to the right audience in the right way when not even the promoters are sure who their actual audience is anymore? Here are some tips to get you on the right track:

 Ensure there’s a genuine value exchange

Brands who think that sticking up a tent, putting your logo on some scrim will keep you top of mind, need to think again. What’s the value exchange? A big bright logo is clearly not enough. At Coachella this Year, Heineken offered free cold storage for your Heineken 6 pack which punters could you access anytime via fingerprint – keeping your beers cold in the scorching heat, #festivalwin.  For Sony Xperia’s sponsorship of Swedish House Mafia’s farewell tour earlier this year, at Iris we created the #together experience, bringing the crowd together like never before. Pre concert, fans downloaded the free Lisnr app and were able to synch their phones with the light show in real time. 50,000 phones lighting up with the main stage. Happy fans.

Don’t try and own the big moments

 Brands trying to ‘own’ the big festival moment or spectacle are destined to fail. Festival promoters and the bands themselves don’t want brands to overshadow their show. Work out what the punters want and do something to enhance their experience. How can you give fans social currency without distracting them? Or how about, hell, creating your own spontaneous moment. In 2011 a bunch of kids laid down dozens of garbage bags and turned the Woodford campground into a giant slip’n’slide. It was miles away from the live stages, but people came a-running. And all the brands were up at the festival because that’s where the action was, right guys? Guys? Buller? Buller?

Understand the varying festival needstates

Creating a one size fits all activation program is a recipe for disaster. Putting your bar, tent or stall up at Big Day Out doesn’t mean it will work at Laneway or Field Day. Status Seekers hit Field Day and Good Vibes. Get those tatts out and singlets off, lads. Remember when Harbourlife banned dudes with no shirts, and how happy that made us all? Expressives hit up Laneway, Young Explorers make the pilgrimmage to Splendour and Falls, and Blokeys get their (mid-strength) bourbon on at Big Day and Groovin’ The Moo. (Note: labels above are my descriptors, not common lingo amongst kids). But why are these kids going – for the tunes? To get off their chops, dress up, have a road trip, tell cool stories, build myth and legend amongst mates? Brands better know before they go.  

Focus on the many, not just the few

Music festivals are the ultimate melting pot, where socioeconomic divides go out the window and the experience is king.  Crews from the Shire party along with kids from the inner west, the North Shore, the Penny basin, and anywhere else you can think of.  Mainstream brands creating VIP experiences do so at a big risk. Oh look, Telco X is doing VIP dunnies? But wait, why can’t I get in there and that guy can? Screw you Telco X. It might look good on a boardroom presentation to say you gave 500 youth a special brand experience, but if the other 20,000 reckon you’re elitist, it’s a #festivalfail. Virgin Mobile got around this at Splendour a couple of years back by giving free tents to its customers, but they had to get them from a secret warehouse outside the festival. Great way to get your brand talked about pre festival.

 Forget influencers at festivals, every single festivalgoer has a massive social voice once they leave the precinct. At Singapore Night Festival, Yelp gave out thousands of glowsticks – people were fighting to get their hands on them. Now imagine a sea of glowing Heineken green at Stereosonic. Yep. 

Be an enabler of self expression

Festivals represent the ultimate opportunity for self-expression. It’s a moment of freedom where you can escape the real world and express who you really are, or would like to be. Brands who create opportunities for fans to be rewarded or celebrated for their individual creativity are the ones that win. Remember, every selfie is an opportunity for stardom within their social networks. Those at home following the festival hashtag feed expect epic pics from their mates. Punters at Burning Man paint each others’ faces with elaborate animal designs – everyone wants in, and they have the living hell photographed out of them wherever they go. And those photos spread online like Chlamydia. Fun with an animal theme? Can’t imagine a brand that would want to get on board with that *cough* Optus.   Beware though, hijacking a meme can be borderline unauthentic if you get it wrong.

Enhance their experience through simple tools

Brands are looking left and right to innovate at festivals with technology such as RFID, as we saw at Coachella festival in the States this year or the Tupac hologram in 2011. The reality is that the best experiences brands can deliver are based on being super useful. Understanding context, environment and mindset is critical. Every year Splendour is a mudbath. You can put money on it. Festivalgoers without gumboots can buy them on site for $50 and up. Bargain, right? A brand giving out cheap branded gumboots would get amazing traction at the event. Or ponchos. Or cheese toasties. Or freaking water balloons! Everyone’s wet anyway, right?

Avoid the on ground social media trap

 Forget trying to do some media activations/promotions at festivals in real time. Punters aren’t checking your Facebook page. Sorry.  Despite ongoing attempts by promoters, mobile coverage is typically rubbish, yes they are taking loads of selfies, but they aren’t actually updating their Instagram and Facebook profiles in real time.  They’re waiting till the next day when they can curate, filter their pics and create highlight packages. #nofilter doesn’t exist in festival world. Which brings me to my last point.

 

Focus social amplification on the anticipation phase and festival aftermath, not during the festival

Brands should focus their content and social media strategy on the lead up to the festival, driving anticipation of their brands involvement. Use your social channels, particularly Instagram (the music festival goers channel of choice) to excite festival-goers as to what you’re going to be doing at the festival.  Generate conversations with behind the scenes footage where punters can learn more about the acts. It’s about staking your claim beforehand so that you’re top of mind when they do get to the festival. Unless your brand is sponsoring the headline act on the main stage, the whole ‘lets broadcast this 3rd tier act on a backstage on our YouTube channel’ play is a waste of money. And, if you’re going to create a wrap up hype video or picture gallery of your brands festival activation, make sure you do it within 24 hours. No on will watch a vid that comes out 3 weeks after the fact. They’ve moved on.

 So, bring on the music, fun and frivolities and hopefully this article will save a few unsuspecting brands from #festivalfail this Summer. 

 

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Audience as Characters: the new frontier of #interactivestorytelling

I just wrote an opinion piece for B&T magazine here in Australia on the evolving role consumers are playing in interactive stories. Hope you find it interesting.

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The best brands have always told great stories.  But in the world of real-time social connections, multiple screens and a culture of immediacy, the concept of the brand story is changing.  They’re no longer linear; and they’re no longer told in one sitting. Welcome to the era of interactive storytelling – where audiences become characters influencing the story.

The best brand stories now encourage different levels of participation to achieve maximum impact and scale.  This means designing interactive stories for skimmers (those exposed to the story), dippers (those sharing the story) and divers (those immersing, influencing and advocating the story) is a must for marketers.  Whilst it’s easier to entertain or engage ‘skimmers’, what is interesting is how brands are developing interactive brand stories for the ‘dipper and diver’ audiences –  as these are the most influential groups.

Many brands have experimented with interactive storytelling where the audience becomes the narrator (i.e, Chrysler ‘Steer the Script’, Coke’s ‘Share a Coke’, and many Alternate Reality Games such  ilovebees ARG, The Dark Knight ARG). The other popular strategy has been crowdsourcing the story, where the audience becomes the creator of the whole story. While some brands have done this well (i.e our latest MINI #notnormal campaign in the UK,  Arvo Beers ‘Perfect Lager Project’, Fanta Flavour Lab, The VW People’s Car Project in China, our own digitally customisable London Olympic Mascots) others have missed the mark, (the Raymond Weil’s ‘help design a new watch’ Facebook competition springs to mind) .

But the new frontier for participation branding is putting the audience into the story, as an actual character influencing other characters and the outcome. That is, it’snot just about giving a few people aunique experience (such as the “Best job in the world” campaign) anymore and relying on the online amplification of that (does anyone even remember who won Best Job?), but actually creating multiple stories for the many, democratising the experience so to speak.

To understand this we look to narrative theory – that’s the idea that in any story there are typical characters we identify with – the protagonist, antagonist, foil, mentor, threshold guardian, trickster, minion etc.   If you think about what’s been hot in popular culture, TV dramas such as the Wire, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad (and more recently The Fall, Luther and Game of Thrones) play around with who’s the hero and who’s the villain. While if we look to gaming, we can see evolving storytelling arcs and different role-playing in games such as Bioshock Infinite, Last of Us, Diablo, World of Warcraft, Heavy Rain, Skyrim and Final Fantasy. Narrative theory has even transcended into the music space, with pop band IO ECHO launching an interactive music video ‘Ministry of Love’ that allows audience to control the band through a series of rooms.

So what’s happening at the more ‘creative’ end of interactive storytelling in terms of the role of the audience?

Audience as the protagonist is still the most common approach (e.g. the character ‘Alex’ in Toshiba/Intel’s “The Beauty Inside”), however brands are now playing with more unusual roles – the most famous of those being the audience as foil in Dove’s ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ and Old Spice’s ‘Man your man could smell like’. The role of audience as mentors to the community is also becoming a useful tool, some interesting examples being ‘Curators of Sweden’ (where Swedes get to manage the countries Twitter account) and Google’s Build with Chrome collaboration with LEGO (disclaimer: I worked on this one).

At Iris, we’ve experimented alot by thinking about audience as threshold guardians of the story, where fans work with each other to inspire or help the protagonist achieve greatness. For example, our recent adidas #hitthewinner Wimbledon Twitter game inspired Andy Murray fans to predict where he would hit a winner during his Wimbledon matches in real time. Fans won prizes if they predicted correctly, but what they were also doing was playing the role of guardians motivating him to Wimbledon glory.

So where’s the white space for brands looking to experiment with new interactive stories? Thinking about audience as sidekick rather than protagonist is an interesting place to start. Imagine audiences feeling like they are working alongside the brand. Also thinking about ‘groups of heroes’ rather than relying on one main protagonist to engage. We know people seek brands that help them belong, so brands with big advocate communities should explore this approach. The real visionary brands will involve audiences as an antagonist or anti hero as they look to create provocative ways for characters to interact and compete with each other.

So yes, the brands with the best stories will always win, however, if you neglect to think about what role your audience plays in influencing the story outcome, you’re missing a massive engagement opportunity.

Change the rules, not the game: principles for #participationbranding..Spikes Asia 2012

Change the rules, not the game: principles for participation branding

Excited to be presenting at Spikes Asia 2012 in Singapore in a few weeks on ‘Participation branding’ and the principles we see at Iris Worldwide that drive brands forward in the social economy. I’ll be running a forum with my Regional Strategy Director colleague Paul Gage (@gagey501) from our Singapore Office and two of our awesome regional clients Amit Dasgupta from Adidas and Andre Khoo from Heineken – both whom are doing some great work in the participation space. If you’re in Singapore, come along and check it out, guaranteed to be interesting 🙂